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Accepting refugees in Maryland is the right thing to do — economically and morally

Nadir Kdisaat gives his daughter, Ghazal, 7, a hand and a hug as she gets off the school bus. Nader and Ramya Kdisaat came to Maryland with their four children after living in a Jordan refugee camp for five years.
Nadir Kdisaat gives his daughter, Ghazal, 7, a hand and a hug as she gets off the school bus. Nader and Ramya Kdisaat came to Maryland with their four children after living in a Jordan refugee camp for five years. (By Paul W. Gillespie / Staff)

With less than a month left to meet a Trump administration deadline to secure federal funding, Gov. Larry Hogan has agreed to continue resettling refugees in Maryland, as the state has done for years.

“We are willing to accept refugees who the federal government has determined are properly and legally seeking refugee status and have been adequately vetted,” he wrote to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, in a letter dated Dec. 30th — the same day The Sun ran an article pointing out that he hadn’t yet made up his mind.

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Roughly 30 other governors — including those in our four neighboring states — also have signed on to welcome this relative handful of desperate people fleeing their home countries because of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In other words, the kind of persecution that America claims to specifically reject.

It’s the right thing to do. The human thing, the apolitical thing. Before we’re Republicans or Democrats; Muslims, Christians, Jews or atheists; lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans — or none of the above — we’re people. And we help others in need when we’re able.

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Perhaps if the remaining holdouts still weighing the pros and cons had names and faces to associate with the concept of “refugee,” it would help them picture exactly whom it is they’re considering. Here are a famous few:

Gloria Estefan and her family fled the Cuban Revolution in 1960, arriving in the U.S. when the singer was 2-years-old. A young Sergey Brin and his family escaped anti-Semitism in Moscow in 1973, emigrating to the U.S. where he would eventually meet Larry Page as a student at Stanford University and co-develop the search engine and eventual internet behemoth Google. Madeleine Albright, the first woman appointed U.S. secretary of state, was a refugee in England during World War II, and her family later came to the U.S. after her native Czechoslovakia was taken over by Communists. Then we have physicist Albert Einstein, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, rapper M.I.A. and philanthropist investor George Soros — all refugees.

Of course, there are also regular refugee folks you’ve never heard of, who go about their daily routines like most of the rest of us, trying to make a living and a life. And yes, there are a few who will commit crimes that will be seized upon by those who never wanted refugees here in the first place, but not many. In fact, crime — both violent and property-related — went down in nine of the 10 cities that accepted the most refugees between 2005 and 2016, according to one analysis.

Safety was said to be a big consideration for Gov. Hogan in 2015, when he and 30 other governors, most of them Republican, tried to refuse Syrian refugees based on terrorism concerns, but couldn’t because they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in September “enhancing state and local involvement in refugee resettlement” by requiring written consent (by Jan. 21) to receive some portion of the 18,000 refugees who will be admitted to the U.S. in 2020. That’s the smallest refugee group in history, down from a cap of 85,000 during the last year of the Obama administration. The order essentially grants states and municipalities the right of refugee refusal — for now. It’s being challenged as illegal and unconstitutional in Maryland U.S. District Court in a complaint filed by Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Inc., among others.

While that legal case makes its way through court. We offer one more reason, in addition to humanity and safety, that accepting refugees is good for states: It’s economically beneficial.

Immigration advocacy group New American Economy estimates that states that opt out of refugee resettlement will lose tens of millions of dollars in the next fiscal year because of it. Maryland alone would have missed out on roughly $4.2 million in income and economic stimulus — and that’s on top of the loss of direct federal funding. In 2015, there were nearly 50,000 refugees living in Maryland, where they made a collective $1.9 billion in household income and paid $182 million in state and local taxes ($383 million in federal).

So good for you, gov. But next year, maybe don’t wait quite so long to decide.

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